Animal Control: Pit bulls bit more people in 2011 than any other breed
Pit bulls bit more people in the county than any other breed last year, according to Animal Control statistics.
Pit bull bites on humans accounted for about 15.5 percent of the 986 biting incidents recorded by Animal Control in 2011. There were 154 pit bull bites. That’s 36.6 percent higher than the incidents recorded for Labrador retrievers or Labrador retriever mixes, the breed with the second-highest number of attacks on people, according to data released last week.
A passionate debate has been ignited by an April state Court of Appeals ruling that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous.”
In the event biting incidents lead to lawsuits, the ruling places liability squarely on the shoulders of pit bull owners and their landlords. If a pit bull bites someone, it no longer has to be proven in court that the dog had previously demonstrated that it was violence-prone.
The issue was highlighted last month when a 9-year-old boy was sent to the hospital after he was attacked by a pit bull in Pasadena.
But Animal Control Administrator Robin Small urged that the statistics on biting incidents be seen in context.
“We see dogs that bite of every breed,” Small said. “After taking into consideration the different circumstances … the best indicator of whether an animal is aggressive or not is related to responsible or irresponsible ownership.”
Small noted that in many cases, like the recent incident in Pasadena, Animal Control officials see repeat offenders.
Animal Control was called to a home in the 200 block of Armstrong Lane shortly before 8:30 p.m. May 23, after a pit bull got loose and bit the leg of a 9-year-old boy who was on his bike.
The boy was visiting the home with his mother. The dog’s owner struck the dog with a baseball bat several times before the dog let go of the child, according to the police report.
The child was taken to the John Hopkins Children’s Center with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Animal Control officers took custody of the dog, named Big Boy.
Animal Control had been to the home for several prior incidents, according to the police report.
Small said the data on breeds involved in biting reflect judgments Animal Control officers base solely on each dog’s appearance. In such cases, the department does not administer DNA tests to confirm the breed, she said.
The numbers also do not take into consideration whether the dog was provoked and the severity of the bite, Small said.
For the last 20 years, the county has not allowed members of the general public to adopt pit bulls, opting instead to partner with rescue groups so that the dogs can be placed in homes with responsible owners.
In the past year, county fire and medical personnel have responded to 62 incidents in which a person was bitten by a dog. Fire department officials were unable to break down the data to indicate breed.
Of those incidents, only two — 3 percent — resulted in an injury serious enough to require hospitalization.
The biting victims in both of those incidents were adults. Overall, adults were victims in 62.9 percent of the biting incidents; children accounted for 37 percent of the incidents.
More than half the incidents resulted in people being taken to the hospital for minor injuries. In 38.7 percent of cases, no one was taken to the hospital.
The number of dogs that Animal Control ultimately either deemed dangerous or retained custody of in 2011 was significantly lower than the overall number of bites.
Animal Control retained custody of 10 dogs and deemed 13 dangerous in 2011, according to additional data provided by the department.
Forty dogs were deemed potentially dangerous in 2011. In the vast majority of cases last year, Animal Control officials took no action beyond issuing warning letters; 243 such letters were issued to dog owners in 2011.
Small pointed out that in looking at such statistics, the popularity of pit bulls must be taken into consideration. The two breeds most involved in biting incidents last year tended to be among the most popular with dog owners.
State Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, an outspoken critic of the appeals court’s decision and the owner of an American Staffordshire terrier, a breed commonly identified as a pit bull, took issue with the data, pointing out that the term “pit bull” can be ascribed to a number of different breeds and that the figures were based solely on appearance.
McMillan said that in its decision the Court of Appeals failed to properly define the dogs.
He also said that one year of data is not enough from which to draw conclusions, and that the numbers are apparently contradicted by national data showing that mixed-breed dogs account for the largest numbers of bites.
“The notion that the moment a pup is born it’s predisposed to harm human beings is just wrong,” McMillan said, likening the idea to racism. “The owner of pit bull and a Lab should be held to the same standards.”
After the failure of efforts to bring up the issue in last month’s legislative special session, a General Assembly joint task force has been appointed to address the ruling before the 2013 regular session, McMillan said.